Archive for the ‘ Matchups ’ Category

Series 5 Preview: Rangers at Cubs

Beltre

Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre is a force offensively as well as with the glove. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Once the clear leaders of the AL West and back-to-back Junior Circuit champions, the Rangers now have plenty of company in their division. The Angels have loaded up through free agency two winters in a row, and the A’s shocked baseball by upsetting the Rangers for the division title last fall. But Texas will be able to dip into a perennially deep farm system thanks to one of the game’s premier scouting operations. They come to Chicago in an early season Interleague matchup due to the new 15-team alignment in each league.

rangers_at_cubsCubs batters will face a challenge getting the ball past the left side of the infield thanks to two of the game’s best glovemen: third baseman Adrian Beltre and shortstop Elvis Andrus. Both have great range, smooth hands and outstanding arms. Beltre, of course, adds in a .300-average, 30-homer stick that makes him an annual MVP candidate, while Andrus has improved offensively across the board in the last couple of seasons. Homegrown players stock the right side of the infield, with second baseman Ian Kinsler and first baseman Mitch Moreland. Regular DH (and former Astro and Cardinal) Lance Berkman could spot at first base or in the corner outfield this series.

With the departure of Josh Hamilton, there’s more pressure on left fielder David Murphy to double up on his breakout 2012 season, on right fielder Nelson Cruz to stave off further decline, and on center fielder Leonys Martin to grab hold of the position after being inked to a five-year deal out of Cuba.

The Cubs will see a few familiar faces behind the dish: former friend Geovany Soto and former foe A.J. Pierzynski. The latter joined the Rangers as a free agent after eight years on the South Side. Former Cub Jeff Baker also has a bench spot and may poke his head out against Travis Wood or other lefties.

The Cubs will miss right-hander Yu Darvish and the assortment of pitches that dazzled for 26 straight outs against the Astros two weeks ago. But they’ll still catch a homegrown trio with plenty of stuff: inconsistent left-hander Derek Holland, 2010 fifth-rounder Justin Grimm and reliever-turned-starter Alexi Ogando. Expect a lot of easy cheese on Thursday when Ogando takes on Jeff Samardzija. In the bullpen, the Rangers pair a couple of sophomore setup guys, Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers, with veteran closer Joe Nathan.


[PROBABLE PITCHERS]

Friday, April 5—LHP Derek Holland (0-1, 2.40) vs. LHP Travis Wood (1-0, 1.46)

Saturday, April 6—RHP Justin Grimm (0-0, 4.50) vs. RHP Carlos Villanueva (0-0, 0.64)

Sunday, April 7—RHP Alexi Ogando (2-0, 1.08) vs. RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-2, 2.75)

—Sean Ahmed

Series 4 Preview: Saturday’s Giants vs. Cubs matchup

at Dodger Stadium on April 2, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

Giants starter Madison Bumgarner will throw Saturday at Wrigley Field. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Got your Vine Line Game Day Edition scorecards ready? We’ve got a dandy pitching matchup at Wrigley Field Saturday afternoon. Here’s a quick guide to today’s two starters:

MADISON BUMGARNER
Repertoire (Avg. MPH)*: 4-seam (92), Slider (88), Change-up (86), Curve (85)
Age: 23
2012 Stats: 208 IP, 22.5 K%, 5.1 UBB%, 3.37 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

bumgarner_pitchmix2012Bumgarner’s repertoire is simple on its face—fastball, slider, curve and change—but it’s how he’s able to locate modify his pitches that makes him such a great left-hander. He adds and subtracts from his fastball and adds in some natural cutting action. The result is a continuum of velocities and movement, even though the vast majority of his pitches will fall in a slim high-80s to low-90s range.

Righties will have to deal with being pounded inside with cutters and sliders, and protecting against curves and change-ups that will drop on the low-outside corner from different directions. Bumgarner delivers from a low three-quarters angle that makes both locations tough to deal with. Against lefties, he throws his fastball over half of the time, attacking the outside corner as well as using it up and over the plate. His slider will sweep hard away from a lefty, and his slow, mid-70s curve gets batters way out in front. Watch out for some backwards pitching: While hitters are likely to see a first-pitch fastball, they’ll deal with more sliders when Bumgarner falls behind in the count and more fastballs when he’s ahead.

Bumgarner’s signature is his command, and it’s no doubt the product of clean, repeatable mechanics. He turns toward second base at max leg kick before unwinding his hips and arms, keeping his head perfectly still and getting great extension toward the plate. It gives him “effective” velocity more than pure velocity and is a big reason he’s had an above-average strikeout rate in his two full seasons in the big leagues.

JEFF SAMARDZIJA
Repertoire (Avg. MPH)*: 4-seam (96), Sinker (95), Cutter (92), Splitter (86), Slider (85)
Age: 28
2012 Stats: 174 IP, 24.9 K%, 7.5 UBB%, 3.81 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

samardzija_pitchmix2012One thing’s clear through two starts: Samardzija is determined to surpass his breakout 2012 campaign. His 22 strikeouts through 13.2 innings gives him a 41 percent strikeout rate, and he’s kept opponents to a .125 batting average. Is it possible for Samardzija to be a breakout candidate again? Some certainly believe so.

There’s been at least one specific improvement in the very early going: his use of a back-door slider against lefties. That’s a pitch that starts off the plate before sweeping over the outside corner. In fact, southpaws have struck out four times on the slider versus six on the splitter, whereas the ratio was one to five last season. He’s also used it nearly a quarter of the time against right-handed hitters with two strikes. It’s possible that he just has better “feel” of that pitch so far, but we’ll be watching the development of that pitch to see if it helps Shark unlock another gear this season.

Both of Samardzija’s fastballs sit in the mid- to high-90s, and his two-seamer is made even more impressive by his ability to run a few extra inches of movement while matching the velocity of his four-seamer. Overall, he likes to move pitches away from batters—using more two-seamers and splitters that fade away from lefties, while employing the cutter and slider against righties. And Samardzija’s splitter is his No. 1 weapon when he gets ahead in the count. He’s gotten more whiffs on the pitch each year in the big leagues, up to a 46 percent swing-and-miss rate last season.

*PITCHf/x numbers from Brooks Baseball.

—Sean Ahmed

Cubs set to take on defending champs

Posey

The Giants and 2012 NL MVP Buster Posey rolls into town Thursday. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The defending world champs roll into Wrigley Field having won a second World Series title in just three years. They’ll be gunning for a third with much the same roster they fielded last season. GM Brian Sabean re-signed veteran center fielder Angel Pagan to a four-year deal and rewarded 37-year-old infielder Marco Scutaro with a three-year contract for his stretch-drive and World Series heroics. But the Giants’ activity (or lack thereof) in the hot stove season underscores how this year’s team is different. In 2012, they lost Pablo Sandoval for one-third of the year to injury, and they traded for Scutaro and right fielder Hunter Pence in the second half. Having that trio join NL MVP Buster Posey for all of 2013 should provide an offensive boost. If they get the same consistency from the league’s best rotation and their deep bullpen, they’ll be hard to beat—and a good bet to repeat.

HITTING: 4.2 RS/G (9th in NL)
What the Giants’ lineup lacks in pure slugging it makes up for in versatility. Though they finished last in the league in home runs in 2012, they take a big hit playing their home games in AT&T Park, where they managed just 31 homers all year. But if they get full seasons from Pence and Sandoval, they’ll have plenty of pop in any park. Despite the absence of a big-name burner, the Giants were fourth in the league in steals and swiped bases at an above-average 75 percent clip. With Pagan up front and the Panda-Posey-Pence trio in the heart of the order, the Giants could have a remarkably efficient short-sequence offense. To extend that all the way through the order, they will need first baseman Brandon Belt to finally break through. Left field could be manned by a rotating cast, as manager Bruce Bochy likes to exploit matchups.

2012 BATTING COMPARISON
Cubs                                       Giants
.240 (15)            AVG             .269 (3)
.302 (16)            OBP             .327 (4)
.378 (14)            SLG              .397 (8)
3.78 (14)            RS/G            4.43 (6)

PITCHING: 3.9 RA/G (5th in the NL)
When people talk about the Giants, it’s usually about their deep and stable rotation. But Tim Lincecum’s off year took some of the shine off their vaunted reputation. If the Freak recovers, he could give the Giants the toughest front four in baseball. Madison Bumgarner is coming into his own, and Ryan Vogelsong might be the reclamation project of the decade. The bullpen more than adapted to the absence of closer Brian Wilson, as Bochy effectively mixed a veteran quartet in righties Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla and lefties Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt. Bochy is expected to be more conventional this year, leaning heavily on Romo to notch saves. If there’s a cause for concern, it’s the unit’s age—this was one of the oldest staffs in baseball last season, and they’re all one year older now.

2012 PITCHING COMPARISON
Cubs                                     Giants
4.51 (14)            ERA            3.68 (5)
.259 (11)            AVG           .248 (5)
1.39 (14)            WHIP         1.27 (7)
4.69 (14)            RA/G          4.01 (6)

HITTER TO WATCH — BUSTER POSEY
What constitutes an MVP—value, stats, leadership skills? Posey’s case might rest on two equally impressive feats. For starters, he’s the best-hitting catcher in the league. Last season, he was second among NL catchers in home runs and became the first backstop to win the NL batting title since Ernie Lombardi in 1942. More fundamentally, he’s been around for just three seasons, and in the two he managed to stay healthy, the Giants won the World Series. His tremendous strike-zone judgment and excellent plate coverage make him hard to beat. At 26, he’s entering his prime and on the short list for best player in the game.

PITCHER TO WATCH — MATT CAIN
As if the Giants’ 2012 season wasn’t magical enough, let’s not forget Matt Cain, the man who threw the 22nd perfect game in big league history last year. Cain also set career highs in wins, strikeouts and ERA, and has clearly claimed the role of staff ace in a deep rotation. But that isn’t all that’s perfect about Cain. He’s a true four-pitch starter with low-90s velocity, and he has never been on the DL. That’s right—he’s taken the ball every fifth day for seven years running. All that, and he just turned 28. That is what perfection looks like. With Cain manning the No. 1 spot, the Giants’ rotation should be strong again in 2013. It looks like Cain should get the start in Friday afternoon’s game.

—By Christina Kahrl

Series 3 Preview: Milwaukee at Cubs

Marco-Estrada

Marco Estrada will take the ball Monday for the Brewers. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

Year after year, there’s little question the Brewers can slug—in their first season without Prince Fielder, Milwaukee ranked third with 4.8 runs per game. But the departures of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum have left some questions in the starting rotation, forcing GM Doug Melvin to cobble together pitching depth right until the end of Spring Training.

brewers_at_cubsJust days before Opening Day, Melvin dipped into the organization’s spending money to sign veteran right-hander Kyle Lohse to a three-year deal (and thus forfeiting the team’s first-round pick in the upcoming draft). Coming off a great start against the Diamondbacks, Lohse is slated to take the mound Wednesday at Wrigley Field. He’s coming off an age-33 season in which he set career bests with a 2.86 ERA, 211 innings, a .234 batting average against, and a 4.4 percent walk rate. His 16.6 percent strikeout rate was also the second best of his career. It’s an open question of which categories Lohse will maintain or regress as he gets another year into his 30s.

The Cubs will also see right-handers Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta. A 2010 waiver claim from the Nationals, Estrada had exceptional command of all three of his pitches last year: fastball, curve and change. It’s not often you see a pitcher with a 90-mph heater striking out a quarter of the hitters he faced—and walking just five percent of all hitters. Meanwhile, Peralta is regarded as one of the Brewers’ top prospects and made the roster after an impressive September call-up. The 23-year-old Dominican pitches with gas, sitting in the mid-90s and able to touch above that. His slider also is a sharp, hard breaker that will get plenty of K’s. But his command and pitching feel are still works in progress that the Cubs will do well to plan against on Tuesday.

With Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart both on the DL at least for the next few weeks, the offense will be headed by the homegrown core of 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and Jonathan Lucroy. Leadoff hitter Norichika Aoki overcame the doubters in his transition from Japan last year. He’s an all-around threat who will take a walk, steal bases efficiently, find the gaps and even take the ball out of the park from time to time. Lucroy is coming off a tremendous year (.320 AVG/.368 OBP/.513 SLG) from behind the dish, while Weeks hopes to bounce back from a career-worst season (.230/.328/.400). Either way, the Brewers should put up crooked numbers as ever in the NL Central.


[PROBABLE PITCHERS]

Monday, April 8—RHP Marco Estrada vs. RHP Edwin Jackson

Tuesday, April 9—RHP Wily Peralta vs. LHP Travis Wood

Wednesday, April 10—RHP Kyle Lohse vs. RHP Scott Feldman

—Sean Ahmed

Cubs set for injury-plagued Brewers

Lohse

Former Cardinal pitcher Kyle Lohse joined Milwaukee in the offseason. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

The following is from Vine Line‘s April Gameday Edition. Fans can purchase the full version of the official program and scorecard of the Chicago Cubs at various kiosks around Wrigley Field.

For years, it seemed like the Cubs and Brewers were constantly sparring for NL Central supremacy. But those days are over for the time being, with the Cubs trying to rebound from a 101-loss season and the Brewers perhaps dealing with a rebuilding year after a third-place finish in 2012. The offense, which carried the team last year, should still be solid, but the pitching staff is a big question mark—though the late-spring signing of former Cardinal Kyle Lohse should help.

The Brew Crew were already planning on breaking in a few youngsters in their rotation, signaling they probably wouldn’t be running with the Reds and Cardinals atop the division. But between losing slugger Corey Hart for the first two months of the season and having to do without Mat Gamel for the entire season, they’re dangerously short on depth in the lineup and counting on a pitching staff in transition.

3.7 Runs Scored/Game — 8th in NL
The heart of Milwaukee’s Opening Day lineup looked tough, as would any that had sluggers Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez batting third and fourth. But it appears the Cubs might catch a bit of a break. The Brewers likely won’t get a 100 percent version of Braun as neck stiffness has kept the 2011 NL MVP out of action since April 3 and the North Siders will entirely duck Ramirez, who was recently placed on the DL with a knee sprain.

The injuries and lack of a strong bench will certainly take the Brewers’ 2012 league-leading offense down a peg in the early going, but skipper Ron Roenicke is one of the most active offensive tacticians around. He loves to get runners moving, bunt and slip in the occasional late-inning squeeze play to pressure opposing defenses. With young shortstop Jean Segura settling in, Roenicke might have a quartet of 30-steal players. In the absence of Hart’s power bat, it will be interesting to see if Milwaukee green-lights the running game even more aggressively. One key will be whether center fielder Carlos Gomez and catcher Jonathan Lucroy retain last year’s power gains as they hit their prime, age-27 seasons. If they don’t, things will likely get a whole lot worse for this lineup in 2013.

6.5 Runs Allowed/Game — 13th in NL
Yovani Gallardo is a familiar face at the front end of the rotation, and Lohse (who is slated to pitch against the Cubs Wednesday) should be solid after a few career years in St. Louis. But after that, there’s a whole lot of wish-casting. Can Chris Narveson come back from a torn rotator cuff? Will top prospects Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers break through? Has the NL caught up to Mike Fiers, who did well his first time around the league last year before fading late? With that many question marks, a career utility pitcher like Marco Estrada is sure to come in handy.

The bullpen has experienced some turnover as well. The Brew Crew brought in veteran lefties Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny to set up John Axford. The hirsute closer will have to prove he’s back from a season in which he almost lost his job due to a rash of titanic home runs. But when Axford is on, his swing-and-miss stuff rates among the league’s best. The Brewers need him to be that pitcher again if they hope to contend.

—Christina Kahrl

Series 2 Preview: Cubs at Atlanta

Kimbrel

Braves RHP Craig Kimbrel has quickly established himself as one of the game’s top closers. (Photo By Leon Halip/Getty)

The last two seasons have left the Braves feeling a bit cheated, with 183 regular-season wins earning them just one postseason Wild Card game. It won’t be any easier to upset Washington in the NL East this year, but not for lack of effort in GM Frank Wren’s office.

cubs_at_braves

The Braves loaded up with a fraternal pair of game-changing talents—B.J. and Justin Upton—to make up for the losses of Chipper Jones (retirement), Michael Bourn (free agency) and Martin Prado (trade). The Upton brothers join right fielder Jason Heyward to form one of the game’s most dynamic outfields, with good speed, big power and cannon arms at each position. The trio also could strike out well over 400 times this season.

Heyward, shortstop Andrelton Simmons and first baseman Freddie Freeman are all 23 years old and form the homegrown core of this team. Simmons is a fantastic defender—many have hailed him as the top defensive shortstop in baseball—and a good contact hitter who appears set to lead off. Freeman already has a pair of 20-homer seasons under his belt and shows a good approach that should see him hitting a good deal higher than the .259 he managed last year while battling vision problems. Heyward regained his footing and became an impact player after a shaky sophomore season thanks to an improved willingness to go with pitches.

The Braves have a well-rounded pitching staff, even if it isn’t at its historical best. Underappreciated workhorse Tim Hudson is followed by former Cub Paul Maholm. Kris Medlen made the most of every inning in 2012, with three months of outstanding starts following a bullpen stint to keep his workload down. Mike Minor still has to put together a complete season, while top prospect Julio Teheran has the pitchability and excellent fastball-change combo to succeed in the big leagues. Meanwhile, the bullpen has the game’s best closer in Craig Kimbrel, but with setup man Jonny Venters out indefinitely with an elbow injury, there’s more pressure on the bullpen’s depth—like newly acquired Jordan Walden and former waiver claim Eric O’Flaherty.


[PROBABLE PITCHERS]

Friday, April 5—RHP Scott Feldman vs. LHP Mike Minor

Saturday, April 6—RHP Carlos Villanueva vs. RHP Julio Teheran

Sunday, April 7—RHP Jeff Samardzija vs. RHP Tim Hudson


[PITCHER TO WATCH] Craig Kimbrel

2012 STATS: 62.2 IP, 1.01 ERA, 50 K%, 6.1 UBB%, 49 GB%

The 25-year-old right-hander’s effectiveness can be summed up easily: Kimbrel stuck out half of the batters he faced in 2012. Combine that with a good ground-ball rate and a great walk rate, and you have the elite of the elite closing out games in Atlanta.

Kimbrel starts closed from the set position before unleashing a whirlwind of torque at the batter. He gets great velocity, extension and deception on his pitches as a result of his mechanics. His fastball sits in the high-90s, occasionally touching triple digits, with a ton of natural life to it. Kimbrel loves to use it on the right side of the plate, where he can bust righties in or get lefties desperately chasing for any contact. But his low-three-quarters arm slot also allows him to get a sharp angle on the left side of the plate, which keeps batters honest. His curve is a high-80s hammer with slider velocity but big break. It’s a weapon that will get whiffs in and out of the zone, and one he’ll drop through the back door to leave batters staring blankly.

PLAN OF ATTACK: Get ahead

After a first-pitch ball, hitters had a .595 on-base plus slugging percentage in 68 plate appearances against Kimbrel. After a first-pitch strike, they had a microscopic .269 OPS in 147 plate appearances with 97 strikeouts and three walks.

—Sean Ahmed

PITCHf/x data from Baseball Prospectus and BrooksBaseball.net.

Series 1 Preview: Cubs at Pittsburgh

Burnett

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

cubs_at_pirates

The Cubs open up the season in Pittsburgh, where a team desperately trying to get over the hump awaits. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen is the star of this team and a complete threat on both sides of the ball. He’s just part of a homegrown offensive core—including second baseman Neil Walker and third baseman Pedro Alvarez—that’s under 27 and hoping to break an 20-year spate of losing seasons.

On the other hand, the pitching staff has been pieced together through trades and free agency. Right-handers A.J. Burnett and James McDonald, and lefties Wandy Rodriguez and Jeff Locke were all collected in deals over the last few seasons. They’re joined by newly signed southpaw Jonathan Sanchez. Meanwhile, veteran Mark Melancon was added to bring games home to closer Jason Grilli, after a season in which an excellent Pirates bullpen faltered badly down the stretch.

[PITCHER TO WATCH] A.J. Burnett

2012 STATS: 202 IP, 3.51 ERA, 20 K%, 7.2 UBB%, 57 GB%

At age 35, A.J. Burnett revived his career with the Pirates after two consecutive down seasons in New York. Though his stuff didn’t really change much, he had better control and got more out of it than in several years. He’ll lead Pittsburgh out of the gate on Opening Day.

PLAN OF ATTACK: Aggressively go after batters

Burnett’s pitch sequencing is relatively typical, but it’s where he locates his pitches that can make life difficult for batters. He leverages his heat in the top third of the zone far more than the average major leaguer. In 2012, he also traded about half of his four-seamers for his sinking two-seamer. As a result, he kept the ball on the ground at his highest rate in seven seasons. The two-seamer is a weapon he’ll increasingly use to avoid barrels when behind in the count. Righties also have to guard against him sneaking it back over the low/away corner of the zone. Against lefties, Burnett will pull out a straight change-up, though it doesn’t have much velocity or movement separation from his two fastballs.

PUTAWAY PITCH: Curve

Once Burnett gets ahead of a batter, he turns to a hard, low-80s curve that he uses nearly 60 percent of the time. It’s a nasty pitch that has sharp, two-plane movement. What makes the pitch exceptional is his ability to drop it at the bottom of the zone, coaxing hitters into chasing borderline pitches. Hitters may know it’s coming, but it’s another matter to figure out if the pitch is going to cross the zone or break out of reach. Batters who did swing at the curve in 2012 ended up whiffing on it nearly half the time.

—Sean Ahmed

PITCHf/x data from Baseball Prospectus and BrooksBaseball.net.

Cubs face off against former division foe

CUBS-CONVENTION-011913-SG-630

(Photo by Stephen Green)

Spring Training is finally coming to a close. The Cubs wrap up 2013 preseason baseball with a two-game set in Houston this weekend to take on the newly minted AL West Astros. And in more ways than one, it’s fitting the Cubs would wrap up the spring with their old NL Central rival.

Both organizations struggled at the major league level in 2012, finishing with the two worst records in baseball. But with massive overhauls taking place in Chicago and Houston, they are definitely two of the most interesting franchises around.

Both Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer and Astros GM Jeff Luhnow asked their fans for patience, as they entered their respective organizations after the 2011 season. And both ushered in a philosophical overhaul that could pay dividends in the not too distant future.

So far, it appears the Cubs are a little farther along than their former division rivals. Not only did they win more games last season, they also have more big league talent in place. In addition, they signed major league talent at positions where they were previously lacking—most notably with the pitching staff. Also, in order to shore up a farm system short on high-impact talent, the North Siders traded expiring contracts for some top-level prospects and had a 2012 draft many consider a success on paper.

That’s not to short Houston, however. While they might not have gotten much better at the major league level—and trading one of their best players in Jed Lowrie won’t help this year—the minor league system is improving in a hurry. With the first overall pick in the draft last season, they took a high-upside shortstop in Carlos Correa, who is already impressing. In all, Houston has five prospects in Baseball America‘s top 100 prospects list, including four in top 50.

Though each organization has seen new ownership over the last few seasons, historically, the franchises have had little trouble spending the money it takes to win. The Cubs have traditionally been near the top of the list in annual team payroll, and the Astros were in the top 10 as recently as 2009. The key will be when each respective management group feels it is truly ready to compete.

The two organizations still might struggle in 2013, but they’re a pair of clubs that should draw a lot of interest from baseball fans and executives over the next few years. With two savvy front offices, the teams could be heading toward the front of the standings shortly. And there’s a good chance they’ll both stay there for a while.

First pitch for Friday’s game is scheduled for 7:05 CST. Edwin Jackson will get the start for the Cubs, opposite Alex White. Saturday’s game will start at 1:05 CST and then the team will head to Pittsburgh to open the season Monday.

Baez back in lineup after monster weekend

BAEZ-J-022613-SG-07

(Photo by Stephen Green)

Javier Baez’s Spring Training stay with the Cubs looks like it’s coming to an end Monday night. With just a few weeks until Opening Day, the organization likely wants to start consolidating the players they feel are in serious consideration of a major league spot. Even though the 20-year-old has said on numerous occasions he feels he’s ready to contribute to the major league team right now, the phenom hasn’t even spent much time in Double-A. But that’s not to say he isn’t going down without a fight.

Baez had an incredible stretch at the plate over the weekend, including one point in which he hit three home runs on three straight pitches.

On Friday, a Cubs split-squad team squared off against Team Japan, a side competing in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic. With the game tied at five in the ninth, and a seventh-inning home run already to his name, Baez stepped up with a man on second. After falling behind 0-2, the shortstop ripped a slider over the fence for a walk-off, two-run homer. He had allegedly told Welington Castillo—who was on deck at the time—that he wouldn’t have to hit.

The next day Baez hit a solo home run in the bottom of the first inning, the Cubs’ fourth run of the game at that point. After a fly out in the third, Baez hit another solo shot to left in the fifth to wrap up his day.

He concluded the weekend with a pair of hits on Sunday, including a double and an RBI against the Athletics. Baez will bat fourth in what could be his final Spring Training game with the major league club on Monday.

Edwin Jackson will take the ball for the Cubs as they take on San Diego. The game starts at 3:05 CST and can be heard on Cubs.com. Clayton Richard will throw for the Padres. Here’s the lineup he’ll be facing:

CF Dave Sappelt
LF Darnell McDonald
RF Jorge Soler
SS Javier Baez
C Steve Clevenger
3B Edwin Maysonet
1B Brent Lillibridge
2B Alberto Gonzalez
P Edwin Jackson

Cubs split squad, visit White Sox, host Japan

FELDMAN-S-022813-SG-26

(Photo by Stephen Green)

Even the biggest Cubs die-hard can get a little tired of Spring Training baseball—especially this year, with 39 games on tap. But sometimes all it takes is a high-profile match-up to get fans back in the swing of spring.

Cubs fans are in luck Friday, as the North Siders take on a pair of interesting opponents. Half the team will be traveling to Camelback Ranch to face the White Sox, while the other half will stay at HoHoKam to host Team Japan.

Throwing for the Cubs against the Sox will be right-hander Scott Feldman. In three starts this spring, he’s gone 7.0 innings, owns a 9.00 ERA, and has struck out six. Opposite the 30-year-old will be Sox starter Gavin Floyd.

The game starts off at 2:05 CST and will be broadcast on MLB.TV and locally on WGN. Here’s the lineup Floyd will be facing:

3B Luis Valbuena
2B Darwin Barney
SS Starlin Castro
RF Nate Schierholtz
DH Scott Hairston
C Dioner Navarro
LF Brian Bogusevic
CF Darnell McDonald
1B Brad Nelson

With Anthony Rizzo not yet back from his stay with Team Italy, prospect Dan Vogelbach will man first base as the other half of the Cubs host Team Japan. Named one of the top 10 first base prospects by MLB.com this offseason, the power-hitting Vogelbach had a great 2012 campaign, hitting .322/.410/.641 with 17 homers in 61 games of rookie and Short-Season ball. He’ll be batting eighth.

Having already wrapped up a spot in the World Baseball Classic semifinal (March 17 in San Francisco), the Asian team is looking for a little extra work. Unlike previous Japanese WBC sides that were led by high-profile big league names like Ichiro and Daisuke Matsuzaka, this squad has no players currently on a major league roster.

Travis Wood will be starting for the Cubs. The game kicks off at 3:05 CST. Here’s the lineup Japan will be facing:

CF David DeJesus
SS Javier Baez
C Welington Castillo
DH Alfonso Soriano
LF Dave Sappelt
3B Josh Vitters
RF Jorge Soler
1B Dan Vogelbach
2B Alberto Gonzalez

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